October 22, 2008
There are two sides to every debate. A few years ago I wrote a column about the struggles of mid and low-major schools difficulties in scheduling non-conference games. This is the other side of that coin.
Every November we hear Dick Vitale clogging the air waves with “cupcake cities” and “pastry schedules” of some power conference schools. But let’s look at this from the school’s perspective. The goal of every team each fall is to make the NCAA tournament in March. Given this premise there are two roads that power-conference schools can take when scheduling; the “Syracuse” method and the “Kentucky/Kansas” method.
The “Syracuse” method is the easier of the two paths in scheduling. Jim Boeheim is notorious for having an entire non-conference schedule based entirely within the state of New York. For the ‘Cuse and schools that schedule like it, this may look like the easy way out, but a schedule weaker than it could be also increases the chance of reaching the 20-win plateau, seemingly a benchmark to be included in the discussion of NCAA tournament teams in March if you are a power conference team. While your team may reach 20-plus victories, your scheduling may come back to bite you if you are a middle-of-the road power conference team, as it has done to Syracuse in recent years, ultimately keeping them out of the NCAA tournament.
Teams can choose to be a bit braver and go the “Kentucky/Kansas” route of scheduling, facing mid-major teams that will not be a guaranteed victory. So named because two years ago Kansas invited Oral Roberts University to Phogg Allen Fieldhouse only to fall to the upstart team from Tulsa. Last season little known Gardner-Webb entered Rupp Arena and knocked off the Kentucky Wildcats. While teams that schedule tougher mid-major teams don’t get stuck with the “cupcake” moniker, come March a loss to a Gardner-Webb turns into a pretty big blemish to a team that has a so-so conference record. Which becomes a problem during the selection process if you’re up against teamts from other power conferences with similar resumes.
At first glance it is easy to get behind David as he tries to slay Goliath, but the “big boys” are in a kind of damned if they do, damned if they don’t spot when it comes to scheduling. If they have an easy schedule they rack up the wins and the peripheral numbers look good, but come March they miss the tournament because the level of competition is weak. The moral of that story is; schedule tougher opponents. Ok, schedule tougher opponents like Kansas and Kentucky and run the risk of losing and having a big black dot on your March resume and missing the tournament because other similar teams had a less blemished profile.
While this may not have clarified what to do about the difficulties of non-conference scheduling, I hope to shed some light on the belief that defending the “little guy” is not so black and white.